Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Crain's Falls on EDC's Ramps

This week's Crain's focuses on the continued fight being waged by Willets Point United against the EDC's bait and switch over the need for ramps to be built off of the Van Wyck before any property at the 62 acre site can be condemned: "WPU hired lobbyist Richard Lipsky, who helped kill the huge Kingsbridge Armory development in the Bronx last year. The group has also hired Washington law firm Arnold & Porter. In the past two weeks, the group has fired off letters to city officials and held a press conference keynoted by state Sen. Tony Avella, D-Queens, a longtime opponent of the project. In the near term, the group is focusing on the EDC's failure to gain approval for a key ingredient of the project—access ramps for the Van Wyck Expressway—as the weak point in its armor."

As we have been harping on, the ramp about face exposes, not only the city's dishonesty, but its desperation-having been stymied by WPU and state regulators in the ramp approval process: "The city represented to the court in a sworn affidavit that it would not take my clients' property by eminent domain until it had received approval for ramps for the Van Wyck,” said Mike Gerrard, senior counsel with Arnold & Porter. The EDC points out that its latest plan envisions building the project in phases, and that the first of those does not require new ramps. In the meantime, it is proceeding as if the ramp approval were a formality. It plans to issue a request for proposals in April to select a developer." (Emphasis added)

Well put, Crain's-but if the approval is a formality, why has EDC been spending millions to revise a ramp report for State DOT? And why has the "formality" dragged on for over 15 months? We could add, why has the city gone back on a sworn court affidavit submitted by then Deputy Mayor Lieber in the WPU's Article 78 challenge to the Willets Point ULURP, one that made ramp approval the linchpin for the commencement of any condemnation proceeding?

The reason lies with the fact that this ramp formality has become a royal pain in the ass for EDC-and rather than go through the process, one that is fraught with uncertainty, the agency has decided to go back on its sworn statements in order to bogart the entire process. The reality being that the ramps simply don't work as mitigation for the 80,000 daily car trips that the development will generate-and they certainly will lead to the degradation of the Van Wyck, a deal killer for state and federal regulators.

Facing this losing hand-one made worse by the original fraudulent traffic data submitted to the state by EDC's consultants-EDC made the decision to break its word, its EIS protocols; and contradict all of the testimony it gave before the city council in 2008 during ULURP. EDC did this because it feels that creating momentum will make it impossible for the regulators to turn the ramp application down-and in the process, it feels that rolling the dice legally is worth the risk because of WPU's less than robust resources.

It, is, however, a shameful abuse of power-exacerbated by the silence of the lambs at the city council. Isn't it bad enough that the council gave over its regulatory authority on Willets Point to the mayor-having no idea who would develop the area and what the exact plan would be? Now, having snookered the body, EDC adds insult to injury by basically saying, "It really doesn't matter what we promised to get your approval, you are now irrelevant?

But it isn't only the property owners getting skewered-Willets Point is the home of hundreds of immigrant workers and tenant business owners. The Queens Courier makes the point: "Many years have gone by and they have neglected our community by not cleaning the streets,” said Marco Neira, 12-year shop owner of Master Express Deli and president of the Willets Point defense committee. “They want one way or another, to remove us.”
And there's more: "In addition to the scrap yards and auto body shops, Willets Point has several family-owned businesses which have been operated for many years. Ecuadorian-born Olger Rogel, manager of a local restaurant, noted, “I agree with the progress of the city to make the neighborhood look good, but if the businesses will be closed, there will be many without jobs, especially for the Hispanics.”

So let's hear it for the immigrants and all of the small businesses-poster children for great campaign speeches and ritual obeisance when it is convenient. But what is really needed here at Willets Point, is for all of the talk to be transcended by concrete action-because there are real live small and immigrant businesses being readied for the development slaughter house, victims of the gap between political rhetoric and sincere action.